Rabbi Sam Thurgood’s Message

Rabbi Sam Thurgood’s Message

Shalom Lovely Community!

I hope that you are having a great week and looking forward to a beautiful Shabbat ahead. As you know, we are deep into the second wave of coronavirus infections in South Africa, and it is once again time for increased caution. Our country has again passed the milestone of 10 000 new infections daily, and although we are not going back into significant government-imposed lockdown, we must all be responsible for protecting our own health and that of those around us.

We had an interesting discussion at our weekly “Morality” shiur last night around whether it’s necessary and appropriate for the government to legislate moral behaviour. Examples include coronavirus precautions, rules around smoking, and restrictions on recreational use of drugs. One important caveat made was that any laws made have to be applied consistently and reliably to have any real impact. A second was that we should be careful to make laws that people are not motivated to keep, as laws create criminals – the gangs of the early 20th century in America were funded and made powerful through the prohibition. On the other hand, an analogy which is very fitting to explain Rabbi Sacks’ view of our times is “The Tragedy of the Commons” – a concept explored in the early 19th century by the British economist William Forster Lloyd. The idea is that we have a communal pasture (a “commons”) in the middle of our village without enough grass for sustainable grazing for 2 animals for each of us. I realise that if I were to graze a third animal, there would be minimal damage to the common area, but a great deal of benefit to me. The problem comes in when we all try to do that, and suddenly the entire area is destroyed. (As the saying goes today, “That’s why we can’t have nice things”.) In so many areas of life and society, these principles apply:

  1. If we all keep the rules, we all benefit.
  2. If you all keep the rules, but I break them – I get a large benefit, and there’s not (always) much damage to you.
  3. If we all break the rules, we all lose.

For example – if we are all honest, we know that we can trust one another. If one person is dishonest, he will be able to leverage everyone’s trust to his advantage; if no one is honest (or if enough people are dishonest enough of the time), we lose trust and so many things become a great deal more difficult. This is especially true in coronaland. If we’re all careful, we’re all safer. If enough of us aren’t, personal precautions are less effective. Therefore we need to find ways to keep the vast majority of people behaving safely, even when it inconveniences them. The best way is for everyone to have a personal moral sense of their own responsibility. Another factor is societal pressure, for it to be “not done” to behave without the proper hygiene. The third is the rule of law, that people should fear the consequences for their actions.

By the way – I think that this model can apply to the Mitzvot of the Torah as well, with interesting and surprising consequences! But more on that another time.

The Chief Rabbi and his medical team have released a new set of protocols for Shuls, specifically for the second wave. Highlights are:

  • All existed protocols still apply, and must be strictly enforced, including distancing, no socialising, no communal singing and so forth.
  • Maximum of 50 people at a service.
  • No use of Shul books – please bring your own Siddur and Chumash.
  • Elderly infirm and those who comorbidities, as well as teens who have attended mass-gathering events – should not attend.
  • No food or drink on the Shul premises. We previously had approval for our “snack packs” for children, but unfortunately putting that on hold – children’s services may still continue.
  • Each service much have a COVID marshal, who must ensure that the protocols are followed.

If you’re lying low during the second wave, but would still love some wholesome community engagement, Community Time is here! This Sunday night we will hear from Rabbi Maizels – an international legend in the world of Kashrut, and raconteur of the best Kashrut stories I have ever heard, about some of his Kashrut adventures. Come along and bring your questions.

Finally I have been experiencing a strange glitch with my daily WhatsApp Torah Thought. Many people (and I cannot find a pattern) have not been receiving since 2 December. If you are one of them, and would like to receive, please let me know – I’m working on solutions!

Aviva, Shalva, Tzuriya, Azriel, Neriya and I wish you all Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Sam Thurgood